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She Was Right Woman at Right Time for Murray

If Jim Murray had a chance to write one more column, some think it would be about the woman on his right.

“Jim said he always wanted me on his right. That way, he could keep an eye on me,” said Linda McCoy-Murray, laughing through tears.

Some think Jim Murray would have enjoyed telling the world more about this bright light that streamed back into his life 12 years ago, while he mourned the loss of his wife, one of his sons, his left eye.

Some think Murray would have wanted the millions who laughed with him to understand that he was laughing mostly because of this light.

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He wrote about Linda McCoy-Murray only once, last spring, announcing their marriage. Stuck it in as four paragraphs at the bottom of a bowling column.

Yeah, a bowling column.

It was his way of surprising her.

“He didn’t think I would read it,” she said.

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But the woman on his right, she read everything he wrote. She would finish his columns the same way each time, looking up from the kitchen table, sighing, and saying, “Well, you did it again.”

“I did?” he would say.

They laughed and bantered during long drives, long dinners, long nights in the family room, the legendary sports columnist on the couch, Linda on his right.

There was the time they agreed that, for once, they were going to spend their vacation in a place Linda had never visited.

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“You pick the place,” he said.

“I’ve got the place,” she said.

“Where?” he said. “Your kitchen?”

There was the time she surprised him by enrolling in a journalism course at Santa Monica College.

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“You’re doing what?” he said. “I never took a journalism course in my life!”

She aced the class, proudly bringing home an A-plus final paper on the life of . . . who else? Jim Murray.

They laughed a long time about that one.

Sunday night, during a TV commercial, while sitting on that couch in his robe and pajamas, Jim Murray stopped breathing.

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The woman on his right tried to energize him one last time.

Linda phoned 911. She was told to carry him from the couch to the floor and apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

So she did, again and again, to no use.

After he died, she bemoaned to Chicago journalist Bob Verdi, “I couldn’t breathe life into him. I tried, and tried, and I just couldn’t breathe life into him.”

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“Maybe not that night,” consoled Verdi, “But for the last 12 years, you’ve breathed life into him.”

Some feel Jim Murray, who will be buried today, might have wanted to write about something like this.

However poorly, we’ll try to do it for him.

*

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The cross-country phone call that was to change the last part of Jim Murray’s life occurred during the winter of 1986. It began something like this:

Jim Murray: “Hello?”

Linda McCoy: “How’s my favorite sportswriter?”

Jim Murray: “Tell me who he is, and I’ll tell you how he is.”

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She had not spoken to him for nearly 16 years, since shortly after they had met at the Indy 500, where she was a young local woman serving as his driver.

Until a mutual friend had mentioned his name and his personal troubles, she did not even know he was still alive, and certainly not that he was still writing.

But flipping through her address book one winter’s night from north of New York City, she penned him a letter. He wrote back. She called immediately.

A couple of months later, when they met at the U.S. Open golf tournament, Murray complimented her for not changing one bit since Indy.

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He talked about remembering that girl in the white dress, driving that white pace car convertible, blond hair blowing, truck drivers hooting.

She could not return the compliment.

“I look at him and he was--I searched a year for this word--he was broken,” she said. “He was not the man I remembered.”

Murray had lost his beloved wife, Gerry, in whose memory he penned a column that might have been the single most-moving piece of writing in this newspaper’s history.

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He had lost one of his sons, Ricky, to a drug overdose. He partially blamed himself.

And, of course, he had lost his vision in his left eye.

It was then that she began standing, sitting, and walking on his right.

“I saw a man of such depth, warmth, passion . . . such a gentle man,” Linda recalled. “I said, ‘Oh my God, I have to save this man.’ ”

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While it was seemingly a match made from above, it couldn’t have happened without unwitting help from Bill Dwyre, Times sports editor.

Murray, you see, originally was not scheduled to cover that U.S. Open at Long Island’s Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

When he learned it was only a few hours drive from Linda’s home near West Point, he requested--and received--a change of schedule.

Reading Murray’s clips from that weekend, it is difficult to tell that he slept only one hour Friday after talking with Linda.

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But reading his work long after that, it is easy to see the effect she must have had on him.

There were days his thousands of fans would pick up the paper in amazement to realize, the older he got, the better he wrote.

His description of the Mike Tyson biting incident remains as fresh and insightful as his tales of Muhammad Ali. He described Kirk Gibson as well as he ever described Sandy Koufax.

Linda, who was more than 20 years his junior, knew how to playfully push his buttons. For example, by grabbing his hand or stroking his back in public.

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“He would say, ‘Down, Linda!’ ” she recalled. “It was so cute.”

Murray wasn’t big on public displays of affection, but several years ago he dedicated his autobiography to her.

Somehow, the dedication was lost at the publisher’s office and did not appear in the first printing.

Murray made certain it made the paperback edition, and Linda has the publisher’s letter of apology framed.

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After they had lived together for several years, Murray, typically, picked a unique time to propose marriage--in the front yard, while they were walking to the car to drive to the hospital to check on his recent dizzy spells.

His idea of a wedding day?

“He wanted to go to City Hall, and then to breakfast at the International House of Pancakes,” Linda recalled. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’ ”

On March 3, 1997, they were married at the Westside home of a friendly judge. On the drive there, they agreed that Linda, a public relations executive, would hyphenate her name.

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“He said, ‘Your name sounds so pretty now, you don’t want to become a ‘Murray,’ ” she said. “I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Well, in that case, just stick a hyphen in there.’ ”

Those who knew Murray and McCoy-Murray knew they were bonded by something far stronger.

When he wrote about the Dodgers, unlike every other sportswriter, he did not sit in the press box during games.

He arrived early, conducted his interviews, then retired to the stands with Linda.

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“He didn’t want me to sit alone,” she said.

“We’d be out there, and everybody would be looking at him, saying his name, and he would say, ‘How do they know who I am?’ He didn’t understand it.”

In typical Murray fashion, the last part of his story was the best.

“Our last three weekends were the happiest we had ever spent together,” Linda said.

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During the first of those three weekends, Murray did something he almost never did, accompanying Linda to a big sporting event without his laptop computer.

They attended the races in Del Mar, spending the weekend talking horses and old times with friends.

The next weekend, they bought a new car with something Murray always wanted in a car--the sky. His skin was too sensitive for the sort of convertible they drove when they first met, so he settled on a Chrysler with a sunroof.

“The color was called ‘cafe latte,’ which really made him laugh,” Linda said.

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Then last weekend, they returned to Del Mar, Jim writing his column on Saturday. They dined with friends from the Daily Racing Form that night, then went back and played the horses on Sunday.

On the drive back to West Los Angeles, they were prepared for three hours of traffic.

“But it was as if all the cars parted so we could get through,” Linda said of the two-hour trip. “I remember him saying, ‘Mrs. Murray, you are making great time.’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but I have no idea where I’m at.’ ”

Together, for one of the final times, they laughed again.

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In the four days since Jim Murray’s death, his household has been swamped with several hundred phone messages from all over the world, including Jack Nicklaus calling from South Africa.

His funeral today at a Brentwood church is expected to draw an enormous crowd. Some are estimating thousands.

A memorial service for those who are turned away will be held next month.

But the last thing he did in life, he did for one.

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Moments before his death on the couch, he padded into the kitchen, as he did every night, and set up the coffee maker. He wanted it to be brewing first thing in the morning. He knew how much the woman on his right loved her morning coffee.

* COMING SATURDAY

A four-page special section on the funeral of Jim Murray.

Express your thoughts about Jim Murray, read a few of his memorable columns and see his colleagues’ reflections on his life and career on The Times’ Web site. Go to: https://www.latimes.com/murray

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